Inter and Conte have had a “perfect” start to their Serie A campaign but face a difficult task on Wednesday when they take on Barcelona at the Camp Nou. It could be the toughest phase of the first half of their season as they play Juventus next at the weekend and a win against Valverde’s men could give Inter a psychological boost ahead of their crunch fixture with the Bianconeri.
The Nerazzurri are two points clear of Juventus at the top of Serie A after six straight victories and Conte wants to use that as a springboard as they head to Camp Nou before hosting the Italian champions at the weekend.
Conte is well aware his side have a chance of causing an upset in Spain and he identified what his side needs to do to stand a chance of nicking points off the Spanish Champions.
“We need to recover our energy to make an intense match so we can make it difficult for Barca,” he said as quoted via Goal.
”If you want to put Barcelona in difficulty, you have to play an intense game but at the same time you have to be good at limiting and not letting them play, otherwise it becomes a problem.
”You also have to be good at dribbling and building. This beginning in the league is the result of so much work and a lot of willingness on the part of the boys.”
Barca have had a difficult start to the season, losing two of their opening seven La Liga games and holding on for a goalless draw at Borussia Dortmund in their opening Group F game.
Inter also drew their opening game at home to Slavia Prague, but the Nerazzurri should offer the Blaugrana a real contest in Catalonia.
The double crunch fixture list for Inter could also be one to shape their season moving forward, or at least finally prove all questions asked of them so far. A positive result against Barcelona followed up with a win against Juventus sends out a stern message about their ambitions and it would at least quell out the notion that they’re only in with the initial energy at the start of the season.
With that in mind, here are two key scenarios that could shape the direction of the Nerazzuri – all in the space of a mere five days.
How Inter can take advantage of a “weak” Barcelona side
Barcelona might have signed known names like Antoine Greizmann and Frenkie De Jong over the summer but the reality is that they still look to be struggling – for a club of their standards.
While the Spanish Champions have lacked proper firepower upfront, the real letdown to their game has been at the heart of their defence. In only seven games so far, Barcelona have conceded 10 League goals and as it stands, only six sides have conceded more than Valverde’s men (via Skysports).
It gets worse that the Blaugrana only have one clean sheet to their name as well. It’s no surprise they currently sit in fourth place in the La Liga, with 13 points from a possible 21 so far. As at this stage last season, Barca already had two clean sheets, conceded only six goals and were two spots further on the log. Making it obvious their defence has been at a disappointing level this season.
Their disappointment will be gain for the likes of Lukaku, Brozovic and even former Barcelona man Alexis Sanchez. Of course, they will be aware the Barca backline is not as solid as recent years and there are lots of opportunities to be exploited from the situation. Also the likes of Sensei would be licking his lips at this knowing he could easily have a – stroll creating chances or even better grab a goal of his own – should Barca lack the proper fight to take the game to Inter.
Furthermore, a Barcelona side without a fully fit Messi is only halfway ready for battle. Messi has struggled with injury issues of late – a sign proving he’s only human and his age could be telling on him already. The recently crowned FIFA men’s best player of the year was only just recovering from a calf injury that kept him out of action since pre-season was only able to manage 45 minutes in his first start before limping off again last week against Villarreal.
However, a statement via the club’s official website did state that Messi took part in training with his teammates ahead of Wednesday’s clash but it remains to be seen whether he’ll be passed fit to start against Inter. Going by all things sane, the Barca medical staff will be wary of rushing Messi to avoid a repeat of his setback and even if he does start, we will only be seeing a “partially fit” Messi on display.
Lastly, the painful reality in terms of personnel for Valverde. He might have had some magic moments but the fact that a 16-year-old Ansu Fati has managed to get game time for Barca in midfield shows how much creativity has lacked so far. All these point in the direction that Inter do have weaknesses to capitalize on and it’s safe to say a tactician like Conte will already be aware of all these.
Possible win against Barcelona could give Conte and Inter an advantage ahead of Juventus game
Inter’s 3-1 win against Sampdoria last weekend moved Conte and his side closer to esteemed company.
The victory saw Conte equal Roberto Mancini’s best start to a season, although he still needs two more wins to overtake legendary Inter head coach Helenio Herrera’s record of seven in the 1966-67 season.
2 – Inter have won each of their first six games in a single Serie A campaign for only the second time in their history (the first in 1966/67). Army.#SampdoriaInter
— OptaPaolo (@OptaPaolo) September 28, 2019
A win against Barcelona on Wednesday will put Inter in good spirits going into such a fierce encounter with Juventus. The game is at the San Siro meaning Inter will have the “home advantage” and also the fans will pull in their own impact on the game cheering the side for more of the brilliant performances so far.
Winning an opponent like Barcelona, at the Camp Nou, will no doubt have the whole squad believe they actually do have what it takes to win anyone and the morale of the players could be in full gear ahead of Sunday’s clash with Sarri’s men.
On the flip side, a loss to Barcelona will still leave Inter with a point to prove and pride to maintain in the Serie A and the agony of a defeat could spur them for a “back to winning ways” victory over Juventus at the weekend. Whichever way, Conte has a lot to work with and Inter could yet fall out as genuine winners in the space of the next few days.
A win over Juventus would put them five points clear after seven games and while it might still be early to celebrate, it’ll give the Juventus camp a proper fright they’ve not had in the past decade and that early psychological upper-hand could be the first blow Inter deal the Bianconeri in snatching the “birthright” title off their hands.
Inter have a tough few days ahead and will no doubt need to be at the top of their game to take a result out of their next two games. It’s a difficult task to ask of anyone but should they manage both wins, they will have surely answered questions about their credentials in the title race and their ambitions as a whole. Furthermore, they will have a comfortable lead at the top of the Serie A with no real pressure behind them and that could give them the extra mental edge in the battle for the Scudetto.